Encouragement is an excellent concept. And Bloomberg might be right to avoid getting bogged down in headline-generating attacks on drivers. Unfortunately, creating real movement sometimes requires a sharp whack on the butt, and Bloomberg’s record on stickier anti-pollution measures is decidedly mixed. In 2002, for instance, City Councilman David Yassky introduced a bill to require that the city’s vast army of yellow cabs go green—that all taxi owners be forced to switch from gas-burning Crown Victorias to cleaner gas-electric hybrids. Predictably, the fleet owners fought ferociously against the change—arguing that the hybrids were more expensive to buy, that the hybrids didn’t have a well-established repair network, and that hybrids provided two inches less legroom.
At this point, Bloomberg should be prepared to risk popularity on a life-and-death issue like global warming.
Yassky compromised, putting forth a plan that gradually phased in the hybrids and added an incentive. Taxi owners had been required to buy a new vehicle every three years. Yassky proposed extending the life cycle to five years for hybrid buyers and shortening it to eighteen months for those with gas-only machines.
The fleet owners pushed back for more than three years, finally accepting the carrot but defeating the stick, mostly thanks to the work of their lobbyists. But the cab companies had an unexpected ally: the Bloomberg administration, which backed only minor changes. There are now a mere 381 clean cabs on the road—out of 13,000, the majority of which get twelve miles per gallon as they prowl the streets 24 hours a day. “Encouragement” has failed. If Bloomberg thinks congestion pricing is too politically messy, and he is unwilling to force a couple of thousand cab owners to clean up their acts and our air, is he really going to muscle tens of thousands of property owners to retrofit their buildings?
Smoking and trans fats hardly make a legacy. But snow in the winter? That might be something to brag about.